Of all the lizards in the savannah, the savannah monitor is one of the most impressive. Reaching up to 4 feet in length, these predators are always on the prowl, seeking small animals to eat.
Despite their fearsome appearance, savannah monitors also make good pets. Young lizards that are well trained grow up to be gentle-tempered adults that enjoy being held.
Monitor lizards are also intelligent and engage with their owners in ways that remind you of dogs or cats.
So what is involved in keeping a savannah monitor healthy?
What is the Savannah Monitor Lizard?
Monitor lizards include some of the largest lizards in the world. The famous komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is a close relative of the savannah monitor that reaches over 10 feet in length.
As the best pet monitor lizard, the savannah monitor is a much smaller species. Yet it still reaches a respectable 3 to 4 feet long in captivity. Large enough that a lot of thought should go into designing an enclosure for one.
All monitor lizards are predatory. The largest species will bring down pigs, waterfowl, and even small deer. A savannah monitor diet, on the other hand, consists of insects, snails, reptiles, and small mammals. Any animal prey small enough to be overpowered and eaten.
Savannah monitors are temperamental if not handled from a young age. But a tame lizard is a joy to handle and can even be leash-trained.
Just avoid hand-feeding since they have poor eyesight and sometimes mistake fingers for treats. Savannah monitor teeth are large enough to cause painful, even bleeding injuries.
- Common Names: Savannah Monitor Lizard, Bosc’s Monitor Lizard
- Scientific Name: Varanus exanthematicus
- Origin: Sub-Saharan Africa
- Length: 3 to 4 feet long
- Enclosure Size: 8 x 4 x 3 foot enclosure
- Diet: Carnivorous
- Savannah Monitor Lifespan: Up to 15 years
- Ease of Care: Moderate
Savannah Monitor Care
The most difficult aspects to caring for a savannah monitor are ensuring the enclosure is of the right design. These lizards have specific heat, substrate, and space needs that can’t be ignored.
How Big Do Savannah Monitors Get?
Savannah monitors are one of the smaller monitor lizard pets. Yet they are one of the larger pet lizard choices out there. Any lizard enclosure should be twice as long as the length of your pet, as a minimum.
Savannah Monitor Tank Size
We therefore need a habitat that is 8 feet long for an adult savannah monitor. Four feet of width ensures the lizard can turn around with comfort. Since these are not climbing reptiles you just need 3 to 4 feet of vertical space.
A big savannah monitor is not an active lizard. They spend a lot of their time basking and waiting for meals. In fact, they are prone to obesity in captivity if fed too often.
Substrate for Savannah Monitor Lizards
Bosc monitor lizards have one quirk that sets them apart from other monitors: they enjoy burrowing. Their burrowing habit explains why they prefer moderate humidity levels despite being found in warm, dry conditions.
If possible, provide a substrate that’s deep enough for your savannah monitor pet to dig down. Providing enough room for a young monitor to make a burrow is simple.
An adult savannah monitor prefers a deep substrate to burrow in. But given how large these lizards are, it may not be practical to provide one with enough substrate depth.
Most of the substrates found in local pet stores work well for a savannah monitor. Sand provides a good desert aesthetic though it’s not firm enough for digging. Coco coir holds humidity well and has excellent odor absorbing capacity.
The one substrate that is best avoided is shredded wood chips. It does look very attractive and the oils found in some woods improve the smell of a reptile enclosure.
The feeding habits of monitor lizards make it a poor choice, however. These lizards lunge at their prey and often get a mouthful of their substrate when feeding. Wood chips are indigestible and may cause an intestinal blockage if too many are swallowed.
Lighting for Savannah Monitors
The ideal savannah monitor basking temp range is 90-110℉; they enjoy hotter conditions than most pet lizards do. The rest of the enclosure should be 10-20℉ cooler during the day. An under tank heater, combined with a ceramic basking bulb, will provide enough warmth for a monitor lizard.
As important as infrared light is, ultraviolet is just as essential to successful savannah monitor care. The UVb wavelength is crucial for reptiles. It enables them to synthesize vitamin D3, a hormone that promotes calcium uptake.
Without enough vitamin D3, reptiles will suffer from metabolic bone syndrome. MBD is a serious disorder and often results in permanent deformities even if reversed.
Savannah Monitor Diet
All monitor lizards are carnivorous and the savannah monitor is no exception. As one of the smaller species they feed mostly on insects and mollusks like snails and slugs. Any small reptiles, bird eggs, or mammals like mice are a nice treat as well.
How Often Should a Savannah Monitor Eat?
One major hurdle that new reptile owners have is controlling their impulse to feed these lizards often. Savannah monitors do not have a fast metabolism. And they are very prone to obesity since they will eat even when they are full.
Wild monitor lizards will gorge whenever they come across food since there’s no guarantee they will find more in the coming days. So don’t treat interest in food as a sign to feed.
A baby savannah monitor needs to be fed three or four times per week. An adult savannah monitor, on the other hand, should eat once or twice per week.
Even as adults, savannah monitors should not eat mammals or birds too often. These prey items are high in fat and should be offered as occasional supplements.
A baby savannah monitor will be able to fill up on crickets, mealworms, waxworms and other small insects. As they grow older and larger, it becomes less practical to feed small insects.
You should step up the size of their prey; adult hissing roaches and mealworm beetles are ideal for an adult savannah monitor. These insects can also be raised in large numbers at home so you always have a ready source for your monitor lizard pet.
If you don’t always have access to live insects, canned dog food is a good prepared option for those in-between feedings.
When you do feed, be generous, though. An adult savannah monitor can eat four mice or one rat per feeding. So offer an equivalent amount of roaches, beetles, mealworms, canned dog food, and other items at each meal.
Handling a Savannah Monitor
Savannah monitors do like to be held – but if you have spent time training them. The older a monitor lizard is, the more difficult it will be to train one.
An aggressive savannah monitor is a real handful. They will use teeth, claws, and tail whips to keep you at bay. As predators they have sharp teeth. Baby monitors will cause a painful pinch. But a full-grown savannah monitor bite will break the skin when biting.
What looks like aggression may also be territorial behavior. Male savannah monitors, in particular, will grow defensive about their enclosure. If the lizard decides it does not want you to clean its space, it will hiss and try to make you leave.
The best way to stop these displays is to refuse to back down. Continue cleaning when challenged. Monitor lizards are intelligent animals and they will stop acting that way once they realize you aren’t a threat.
A full size savannah monitor should be supported with both arms. They will spend most of their time relaxing in your grasp, soaking in your warmth and tasting the air with their tongues. But be alert for any tensing that might signal a sudden dash – which would end in a painful fall onto the floor.
Here is a video that breaks down how to train and hold savannah monitor lizard pets:
Savannah monitor care is a little more involved than that of other lizards. They grow large enough that they can’t be housed in conventional aquariums. They also need hotter basking conditions and infrequent feedings to thrive.
Savannah monitors also need to be tamed with regular handling. They have not been domesticated like a leopard gecko or bearded dragon. But if you enjoy large, predatory pet lizards the savannah monitor is by far the best option.
Predatory lizards are difficult pets but the savannah monitor is one of the most beginner-friendly. They do have special care needs in terms of enclosure size and heating. But they are one of the easiest types of monitor lizards to keep.
A savannah monitor full grown is difficult to handle if it has not been trained as a baby. They are intelligent pets and if they have grown used to being aggressive it is hard to train that out of them. You need to start early if you want to avoid being bitten or scratched by an adult. Well trained monitor lizards are docile and can even be kept on a leash when walking outdoors.
An average savannah monitor lifespan is 10 to 15 years. You will get the longest possible lifespan by ensuring you don’t overfeed them or provide them with too much fatty mammal flesh.